There is a lot to be said about the UF institution that is Gator Growl. Given that Florida Blue Key is responsible for Homecoming and Gator Growl, and Student Government Productions decides what talent to host, it truly is an organization of the students, for the students, by the students. Growl has had a history of bringing nationally recognized musical acts. However, as is traditional with student culture in America these days, they bring acts that have been seen as “safe.” Artists that seldom push boundaries, rarely shake up the status quo, and do their best not to step on anybody’s toes. While some of us viewed this as disappointing, others found refuge in enjoying the simplicity of it all.
This year is different. Growl, as usual, brought four different musical acts covering all the typically popular genres. History has proven true. People not only like variety, but they like having their favorite genres represented. Gracing our palates this year is the indie electro-pop band Passion Pit, the hip-hop/dubstep group Timeflies, country crossover lass’s Maddie and Tae, and banger-rap demagogue Waka Flaka Flame. As you can see, dear reader, the bases have been adequately covered.
Growl has successfully proven that you can, in fact, have your cake and eat it too. Growl has maintained their tradition of playing it safe, with Maddie and Tae. They’re cute, they’re upbeat, they’re fun, and they hardly entice a ruckus. Familiarity finds comfort here. Not even close controversial, their entertaining and emotionally uninvested demeanor is simple enough for all to enjoy.
Typically, Growl would stop there. There would be another indie act that is equally as safe, and a rap act that is more popular from established nostalgia than actual talent. As previously mentioned, this year is experimental. Timeflies is a fascinating musical experiment in fusing elements of electronic music, dubstep, hip-hop, and rap. While not necessarily bold in message, the duo provides a fresh and innovative sound that will certainly be appreciated by even the most loyal fans of all those varying genres. Musically, having Timeflies was a bold move, and proves that Growl is daring in their decision to explore contemporary music.
We’re starting to see Growl’s decision to flirt with controversy. Passion Pit is the brainchild of lead singer and front-man Michael Angelakos, who as indie fanatics know, has been quite controversial. In 2012, Angelakos cancelled some concerts in order to get treatment for bipolar disorder, for which he has been receiving medical care since he was diagnosed at 17. Ever since the publicity, Angelakos has been open about his mental health, spurring a conversation that ought to be had. If that’s not enough, Angelakos filed for divorce from his wife just last year. This was a shock to Passion Pit fans, who remember (the fucking awesome) Chunk of Change being a Valentine’s gift Angelakos made for his girlfriend. Shortly after his divorce was made public, Angelakos came out as gay. For Growl to bring an artist with such a controversial past (one covering mental health issues and open homosexuality) is nothing short of daring. As mentioned before, the best place to bring such an act would be a college campus, but while most universities would shy away from bringing a figure like Angelakos in, Growl has the courage to welcome him in.
We saved the best for last, dear reader. We here at The Florida Basement have a history of enjoying the musical stylings of Bricksquad Godfather, Waka Flocka Flame. This was the most surprising member of the Growl line-up. While it’s not uncommon at all for Growl to bring a rap artist, usually those artists are passé musical fads. They brought in artists who really bring nothing to the cultural conversation, and play it safe in terms of otherwise aggressive rap conversations (drugs, sex, violence, et cetera). Usually, Growl hosted rappers who played these over-produced, bubblegum rap anthems, that were so vague and uninteresting that even parents who brought their young children to Growl would humble bob their heads to the sound of kicking bass drum. Thankfully, Waka is not that. To those unfamiliar with his music, listeners are immediately met with sounds of shouting, gunshots, and these heavy, rich musical samples. His lyrics, should you dare to make sense of them, proclaim Waka’s affinity for various illegal substances, absurd amounts of alcohol, and receiving oral sex. Having Waka headline Growl was, pardon my French, a fucking shock.
You can, in fact, have your cake and eat it too. Growl this year has proven that. There is nothing inherently wrong with this notion. In fact, as Growl has shown us this year, it is something quite praiseworthy. Does Growl carry on their tradition of playing it safe and, well, pandering? Yes. But, it also has the courage and audacity to march forward into totally experimental grounds, both in music and in thought. For the first time in a long time, there is political topicality at hand here, and catering to college youthful vigor. Here at the Basement, we’re excited for this festival. We hope you are too.